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Bathiudeens’ lawyer claims conspiracy to undermine national level Muslim politicians

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Attorney-at-law Rushdhie Habeeb alleges that the recent arrest of All Ceylon Makkal Congress (ACMC) leader Rishad Bathiudeen, MP, in connection with the ongoing police investigations, is part of a despicable conspiracy to undermine Muslim politicians at the national level.

Habeeb said so yesterday (28) in his capacity as the lawyer for Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) MP Bathiudeen when The Island sought clarification as regards the Opposition political parties’ response to the latest development.

Responding to another query, Habeeb emphasised that the government, under tremendous pressure from various parties, particularly the Catholic Church over the delay in bringing investigations to a successful conclusion, was pursing a political agenda.

The lawyer said that he represented the interests of MP Bathiudeen, his brother, Riyajj, and their families, as well as the ACMC.

Pointing out that Bathiudeen had been in the Cabinet of the then Presidents, Mahinda Rajapaksa (2010-2014) and Maithripala Sirisena (2015-2019), Habeeb said that several MPs, including SJB leader Sajith Premadasa, Patali Champika Ranawaka, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, Mujibur Rahman, Mano Ganesan, Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam, Imthiaz Bakeer Markar, Manusha Nanayakkara and Harin Fernando, both in and outside Parliament, had questioned the government strategy.

Habeeb said that on his behalf, a junior lawyer sought a copy of the Detention Order obtained by the CID in terms of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) from the Director, Criminal Investigation Department (CID). The DOs allow the CID to detain the Bathiudeen brothers for 90 days. Director, Media, Police headquarters, SSP Nihal Thalduwa yesterday confirmed the issuance of DOs.

In a statement issued soon after the police arrested the Bathiudeen brothers, in the early hours of Saturday (24), Habeeb said that the SJB constituent, the ACMC group in Parliament, comprised four lawmakers, including Rishad. In addition to them, there were 169 ACMC members in Local Government authorities, Habeeb said, underscoring the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the 2019 Easter Sunday carnage didn’t receive any incriminatory evidence in respect of the former Minister.

 Appreciating the public stand taken by Opposition lawmakers, Habeeb called for, what he called a greater consensus among those genuinely opposed to the government strategy.

Weeks after the Easter Sunday carnage, all nine Muslim politicians, including Bathiudeen, relinquished their ministerial portfolios in the wake of the then UNP National List lawmaker Ven. Atureliye Rathana undertaking a fast demanding the removal of Rishad Bathiudeen and two Governors-Azath Sally (Western Province) and M.L.A.M. Hisbullah (Eastern Province). In late July, Bathiudeen and SLMC leader Rauff Hakeem were among those who re-accepted ministerial portfolios, claiming investigations cleared them.

 Asked whether the UNP backed the ACMC led campaign against its leader’s arrest, UNP Chairman Vajira Abeywardena yesterday said that the arrest of lawmakers in the absence of proper charges couldn’t be condoned under any circumstances. However, the UNP wouldn’t want to take a stand hastily as regards MP Bathiudeen’s arrest. “We’ll let the public know our stand once the party studied the case.”

 At the time Bathiudeen was accused of close links with the now proscribed National Thowheed Jamaat (NTJ), blamed for the Easter Sunday carnage, his party functioned as a constituent of the UNP-led coalition. In early 2020, Bathiudeen switched his allegiance to the SJB. Habeeb alleged that the government targeted MP Bathiudeen because he backed Sajith Premadasa at the 2019 presidential election.

Habeeb strongly denied much publicised police headquarters accusations that the Bathiudeen brothers aided and abetted those responsible for the Easter carnage. The latest arrests were made close on the heels of the SJB alleging that those in power now, are suppressing the Easter Sunday investigations. The lawyer said that the government was yet to respond to specific questions raised by lawmakers Manusha Nanayakkara and Harin Fernando in Parliament.

 Meanwhile, an officer who had been with the intelligence apparatus told The Island that the CoI was fully briefed of pre – and post-developments of the April 21, 2019 attacks. Terming the accusations as politically motivated the ex-military man said that the CoI report would help the ongoing police investigations as well as studies undertaken by the Attorney General’s Department.

According to him, a full disclosure pertaining to certain aspects of intelligence operations would undermine Sri Lanka’s relationship with friendly countries. Therefore, both the government and the Opposition would have to address the issues at hand, cautiously.



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Crisis over fuel price hike: SLPP constituents crank up pressure on party General Secretary

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By Shamindra Ferdinando

Eight lawmakers representing political parties affiliated to the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) have urged President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to take action against SLPP General Secretary Sagara Kariyawasam, MP, for challenging the government decision to increase fuel prices.

The group consists of National List MP Ven. Athureliye Rathana (Our Power of People Party), Wimal Weerawansa (National Freedom Front), Vasudeva Nanayakkara (Democratic Left Front), Prof. Tissa Vitharana (LSSP), A.L.M. Athaulla (National Congress), G. Weerasinghe (Communist Party), Tiran Alles (United People’s Party) and Asanka Nawaratne (Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya) in a joint letter, dated June 14, have appealed for the immediate intervention of the President and the Premier in this regard.

Prof. Tissa Vitharana and Alles are among 17 appointed to Parliament on the SLPP National List.

They warned that failure to take tangible measures against such actions would result in the deterioration of public confidence in the government. The SLPP parliamentary group comprises 145 MPs.

The group of lawmakers was responding to SLPP National List MP Kariyawasam’s controversial call for the immediate resignation of Energy Minister Udaya Gammanpila over the sharp increase of fuel prices at midnight on June 11.

They issued the statement consequent to a hasty  meeting called at Minister Weerawansa’s official residence on Sunday.

Noting that the Presidential Secretariat, too, on Sunday confirmed that the decision to increase fuel prices had been taken on June 09 at a meeting chaired by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and attended by Premier Mahinda Rajapaksa, the group of MPs accused the SLPP General Secretary of causing a wholly unnecessary problem. The group alleged that MP Kariyawasam’s actions had caused suspicion among the electorate whether a clique was in operation in the SLPP.

Minister Gammanpila, embroiled in simmering controversy has refrained from signing the petition though he called another press conference today (15) to explain the developments.

 The group said that in view of the financial crisis that had been caused by the rampaging Covid-19 pandemic the government was forced to increase fuel prices in spite of it being an unpopular measure.

Political sources pointed out that in February this year MP Sagara Kariyawasam caused a media furore when he asked Minister Weerawansa to apologise for suggesting President Gotabaya Rajapaksa should be accommodated in the SLPP decision-making body. The group that has thrown its weight  behind Minister Gammanpila also clashed with a section of the SLPP lawmakers over the government bid to allow Indian investment at the East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo port.

MP Kariyawasam did not answer his mobile phone.

In addition to MP Kariyawasam, MP Jagath Kumara (Colombo District) too strongly condemned the fuel price hike.

The SLPP MPs demanding action against Kariyawasam assured that they would soon submit a comprehensive proposal to President Rajapaksa to provide support to low income groups.

The Presidential Secretariat said that the price increase was necessitated by the financial crisis caused by the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC) and the Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) being heavily indebted  to the Bank of Ceylon  and the People’s Bank to the tune of Rs 737 bn. Of that sum, CPC owed Rs 652 bn, the biggest single amount in any of the state sector enterprises.

The Samagi Jana Balavegagaya MP Mujibur Rahman said that Minister Gammanpila owed an explanation why he made the announcement as regards the fuel price hike as the matter came under the purview of the Finance Ministry.  Rahman pointed out that Minister Gammanpila himself subsequently admitted that only the Finance Ministry could decide on this matter. The former UNP MP said that the government’s much touted claim that the decision to increase fuel prices had been finalized on June 09 at the Cost of Living Committee was nothing but a joke. “We thought the Cost of Living Committee was meant to provide relief to the people not to increase their burden,” MP Rahman said.

The SJB spokesperson ridiculed the statement issued by a group of eight MPs. He alleged that the SLPP was staging a drama to divert the attention of the public. Their parliamentary group should take up responsibility for the current crisis having promised to transform the country overnight. Those who had voted for the 20th Amendment in October last year as well as the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill last month were engaged in a futile campaign to save the government, the SJB MP said.

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Basil R wouldn’t have allowed fuel price increase – MP

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Gampaha District SLPP MP Nimal Lanza yesterday said that if Basil Rajapaksa had been in the country, he wouldn’t have allowed the fuel price increase. He said that he strongly opposed the decision as it seriously affected the people, particularly the fishing community.

 

 

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1198 lockdown violators arrested

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By Norman Palihawadane

The Police had arrested 1,198 people countrywide for violating lockdown regulations in the 24 hours that ended yesterday morning, police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana said.

A total of 32,593 persons had been arrested on the relevant charges since Oct 30, last year,  he said.

DIG Rohana said that special police teams had been deployed to continue the operations today as well to nab lockdown violators.

During the same period 3,051 persons travelling in 1,757 vehicles were inspected at 14 entry and exit points in the Western Province. Of them, 160 persons travelling in 100 vehicles were sent back for attempting to cross provincial borders for non-essential purposes, violating travel restrictions.

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